Urban Spaces, Dreamscapes, Contested Territories
“New York Israel” and the Poetry of Mina Loy
In the early twentieth century, critics in the United States associated experimentalist literature with non-white and foreign populations. Literature departing from traditional values and forms was branded with epithets of disease and miscegenation or mongrelism, mirroring social fears of the intermarriage or other mixing of “races.” During this period, the concept of “race” included nationalities and religious identifications as well as phenotypic differences: One spoke of the Italian, the Irish, or the Jewish race as well as the Caucasian, Asian, and African. Modernism was represented as “another form of mongrelization” and modernist writers were “alien-minded.”1 According to Michael North, there was reasonable basis for this association: Modernism structured itself on imitation and romanticization of African American music, dialect, and culture; “the new voice that American culture acquired in the 1920s,” he writes, “was very largely a black one” (7). As a modification of that argument, I would posit that in New York “the new voice” of American modernism was also immigrant and Jewish, not through racial ventriloquism, but in its impetus and alliances. Poets identified their rebellion against literary and intellectual conventions with the literal foreignness of the dominant population thronging the streets of their own neighborhoods on the Lower East Side – an area dubbed “New York Israel” by the Jewish Messenger, a middle-class weekly founded in 1857 in New York (cf. Joselit 6; see fig. 1).
My argument here does not oppose North’s representation of Anglo-American modernism in the 1920s or Toni Morrison’s broader...
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